I have just returned from visiting another lovely, intelligent mother who is doing a wonderful job with her baby, but is convinced she must be doing ‘everything wrong’. She feels guilty that she has messed up her baby’s early days (she hasn’t at all!); she feels inadequate because (she thinks) she can’t read her baby’s cues (she is making perfect eye-contact with her baby - their connection is like a lovers’ gaze and as we talk, she intuitively comforts her baby or changes his position at the slightest grimace or squirm); she feels guilty that she has stressed her baby about feeding. The baby was refusing to breastfeed after some inappropriate advice and now the mum is beating up on herself for listening to the advice that made things more difficult. But really, what choice did she have? Her baby was unsettled (as newborns often are), so what desperate, sleep deprived mother wouldn’t be ready to grasp at whatever straw was being offered if it sounded reasonable at the time – or was being offered by somebody who seemed more experienced about babies than a brand new mum?
Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. Almost every day lately, I seem to be visiting or speaking to beautiful attuned mothers who are totally confused and convinced that they are ‘bad mothers’ or that they are failing their babies in some way or another.
It seems that everybody has been at these women, telling them they are ‘doing it wrong’ or not following ‘the rules’, depending on what rules their critic thinks they should follow or which book they have slavishly been trying to follow ( which, of course, came highly recommended by a friend or acquaintance who found it worked for their baby). In the vulnerable state of new mummy-hood, these formerly competent woman are feeling overwhelmed enough by their new life (the little one in their arms most of the day, that is) without also being undermined as they struggle to nurture their babies with the very best intent - to be the best mothers they can be.
While it is great to be informed - to read, to ask questions and to watch what other parents do with their children - it is also important to remember that each baby is different and every family is unique. When you try to follow a single, one sized set of rules, and it doesn’t apply to your individual baby, it can do your head in. It is also important to bear in mind that what may have seemed perfectly logical before you actually met your baby, may not feel right now. This doesn’t mean you have lost the plot or ‘given in’ especially if you find yourself being less ‘organised’ than you had planned to be. As well as a whole new job spec, you have a new set of hormones to work with. These are actually nature’s tools - these ‘new mummy’ hormones help you feel responsive towards your baby and this is why you feel confused as you take on advice from the lady next door, your best friend or the lady in the supermarket (who advised one couple, “if she cries, don’t pick her up!” even though the baby was perfectly content in her pram at the time), especially if it involves dire warnings about spoiling your baby.
Instead of stressing about what you ‘should’ be doing with your baby, remind yourself that the cuddle police won’t come knocking on your door: hold your baby in your arms and look deeply into those dark navy blue eyes. As you spend time talking and listening to your little one, you will become aware of his language and you will become skilled at communicating. As this happens, you will naturally develop confidence – that you are the expert about your baby.